Take care of yourself

From Activist Handbook

This page is part of the chapter on wellbeing.

While advocating your cause, do not forget about your own well being. Advocating for a cause can take up a lot of your time and energy. At the same time, you might not see any tangible success. In many cases, you will not achieve your goal after a single protest. This chapter will help you to stay motivated in the long run, without demanding too much of yourself.

The most important lesson is to share your experiences with fellow activists. This will not only be beneficial for yourself, but also for others who might undergo the same.

Burnout

As an activist you can get a burnout by taking on too much workload, by being in a constant state of high-anxiety/stress, loss of external control and experiencing/witnessing traumatic events.

Symptoms

The symptoms below are linked to having a burnout [1]. You will not always experience these straight away after a particularly stressful event, sometimes months later.

  • Mood: depression and anxiety;
  • Cognitive: lags in attention, memory, and concentration;
  • Physical: head- aches, high blood pressure, and illnesses;
  • Behaviour: becoming less productive, procrastination, substance abuse;
  • Motivation: diminishing drive to work, increased feelings of alienation and lack of hope.

Prevent

You might be willing to contribute a lot of your time and energy to your cause. However, we are not machines. It is important to take care of yourself. You will be more effective in the long term if you do not cross your boundaries or overwork yourself.

  • Share your feelings. It is ok not to be ok. You will likely feel better after sharing your experiences. Many organisations offer trained wellbeing people who can help you.
  • It is ok to say ‘no’. Do not be ashamed to take on less workload than your fellow activists. Even if you have promised to do something, you can always let others know you took on too much later on. We all have our own personal circumstances and limits.
  • Know your limits. What do you struggle with? What are you afraid of? During a civil disobedience action, for example, you might not want to be arrested. You might be afraid of police dogs. Think about your boundaries beforehand, so that you can adapt your contributions accordingly. There are many ways in which you can be useful as an activist (see tactics).
  • Be prepared during actions. For example, bring snacks, rain gear, warm clothing and something to read. Organisers will likely advise you on what to bring. For more information, read the guide on how to prepare for a protest.

Recover

This section is unfinished. Feel free to add your own knowledge about recovery from burnout.

Watch this TED-talk by activist Yana Buhrer Tavanier on how she recovered from a burnout: https://www.ted.com/talks/yana_buhrer_tavanier_how_to_recover_from_activism_burnout

Read the article about activist burnout recovery on Rewire: https://www.rewire.org/living/activism-burnout-recover/

Extinction Rebellion on burnouts: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1JSjfV-1Cz6LQz9j1Bf0gIMt_ZOuPf01J/view?usp=sharing

Personal experiences

This section is unfinished. Feel free to add your own personal experiences with burnout.

In an interview by Marie Solis in VICE you can read about the experiences of activists who are advocating against the Trump travel ban: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/3k95kk/when-dismantling-power-dismantles-you-instead-v25n4

Paranoia

There is not yet an extensive list of things that activists can experience on this page. Paranoia is one of these experiences. If you have knowledge about paranoia or other experiences in the context of activism, feel free to add information.

When more information gets added to this page, it might be advisable to split it up into different pages for each of the experiences.

References

  1. [1], Chen, C. W., & Gorski, P. C. (2015). Burnout in social justice and human rights activists: Symptoms, causes and implications. Journal of Human Rights Practice, 7(3), 366-390.